Mr. Speaker, 100 years ago this month, American marines forged their legend as the world’s most effective fighting force as they halted the German advance in France at the Battle of Belleau Wood. Less than 6 months later, World War I came to an end, and this year we mark the centennial anniversary of the conclusion of the planet’s first global conflict.
There was nothing like it before its time. It was the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month that all of the guns fell silent. After 4 years of war, 18 million people laid dead, 23 million others were wounded, and many of the old empires of Europe crumbled.
Often called the War to End All Wars or the Great War, the First World War left a long shadow over history which we can still feel today. But none experienced the horror of this war more than the 4 million Americans sent to fight over there in Europe and the families they left behind.
Their lives were immediately changed forever. The United States came late to the war, but when we arrived and restored hope to our European allies, we reached a defining moment in our history and world history.
Until that time, America was not a great power as we are today, but with the arrival of our doughboys, they ushered in a new era of freedom in Europe. This was the beginning of the American century, the New World superpower, the United States.
Our military saw that it was their duty as champions of liberty to help our allies in need and to make the world safe for democracy. They went to liberate, not to conquer. Our enemy was shocked. Our allies were stunned by the tenacious doughboys.
The American doughboys changed the course of the war forever. Here in this photograph, we have Americans going over the top, as they say, over the top of the trench, charging into the guns of the Germans.
When the Americans arrived, the Axis powers were slowly gaining power. With Russia’s premature exit from the war, German troops from the Eastern Front were able to be redeployed to the Western Front.
In the Spring Offensive of 1918, the Germans threw everything they had at our British and French allies, hoping to end the war before the Americans entered that war. But they were too late.
The U.S. troops rushed to the front, relieving their battle-weary comrades and stunning the Germans with the American fighting spirit. World War I is often considered the first modern war.
Military technology made rapid advances, making the battlefield more dangerous than ever in history. The trench warfare was horrifying and brutal. Despite the dangers, our boys were eager to get into the fight.
In June of 1918, the feared German Army was approaching Paris, France, but then they met the United States Marines at Belleau Wood. Mr. Speaker, when the Americans, the Marines, arrived on the battlefield, they encountered retreating French troops.
A French colonel ordered the Marines to retreat as well, but the American captain commanding the 51st Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment made it clear they weren’t there to experience defeat. He responded: ‘‘Retreat, hell. We just got here.’’
The battle was costly for our Marines, but it broke the German Army’s advance and its will to fight. From then on, the Germans only lost. The Allies quickly mounted a successful counteroffensive to push the Germans back into Germany, and the war was over, 100 years ago this year.
We must not forget those who sacrificed so much to make the world a better place. During the war, 116,516 Americans were killed.
Another 200,000 were wounded. Thousands more died when they returned to the United States with the Spanish flu that they contracted when they were over there. While none of the 4 million courageous Americans who answered the call are with us today, their legacy lives on.
I am pleased that last year we finally—finally, after 100 years—broke ground on a new memorial here in the Nation’s Capital to honor all of those who served in the great World War I. Mr. Speaker, I commend the World War I Centennial Commission on which I once served for their highlighting of our World War I troops.
Now, after 100 years, the memorial will be built in D.C. for those who served, those who returned, those who returned with the wounds of war, and those who did not return. We are giving these great Americans the honor they rightfully deserve here in Washington, D.C.
There are no more of the battlefield- weary troops that served in the great World War I. The last one was Frank Buckles, who died at 110, a friend of mine, and it was his desire to see a memorial built here in Washington for all of those friends of his who served in World War I.
So, finally, we are doing that, and the sacrifice of those Americans for this Nation will be preserved in bronze and stone in the heart of this city; for the worst casualty of war, Mr. Speaker, is to be forgotten.
And that is just the way it is.